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Performances

Lianna Haroutounian [http://www.liannaharoutounian.com]
21 Jan 2016

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: Lianna Haroutounian

 

Stepping in for Karel Mark Chichon, who cancelled due to illness, young Italian conductor Pietro Rizzo led the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic in a exciting, if imperfect, performance. It was evident that he had had very little time with the orchestra. The first bars sounded rather scrabbly. There were unsteady woodwind attacks, especially in the wedding scene, and the horn section repeatedly lagged behind in Act III. Mr Rizzo’s signalling to the Netherlands Radio Choir, who ushered in Butterfly with some heavenly sounds, also suffered from their belated acquaintance. The Humming Chorus, sung backstage, was adequate musically but lacked dynamic subtlety. Flaws aside, however, the performance had a pulsating energy and was enriched with carefully crafted details. Mr Rizzo can suspend a phrase in mid-air and then let it glide down as gracefully as the folds of a kimono. He also whipped up some thrilling Puccinian crests, although climaxes were hard-edged and needed more roundness in the brass. Altogether, Mr Rizzo’s was an exciting Concertgebouw debut. It was also his first time conducting in the Netherlands, and hopefully he will return soon. There were excellent contributions from some of the principals, in particular concertmaster Joris van Rijn’s tender solos, Ellen Versney’s softly glittering harp and Paul Jussen’s portentous timpani.

All the soloists sang the music by heart, which is always a boon, and entered and exited in character. Most of the supporting cast ranged from acceptable to competent. As Goro tenor Ho-yoon Chung sang very well indeed, but nothing in his characterisation suggested the marriage-broker’s base, money-grubbing nature. He sounded more like a friendly next-door neighbour. A cut above the rest were bass Miklós Sebestyén as the Bonze and the three Dutch singers playing Kate Pinkerton and Butterfly’s relatives. Mr Sebestyén was vocally commanding in his short scene, storming in to renounce Cio-Cio-San for converting to Christianity. Maria Fiselier, Ruth Willemse and Julia Westendorp were all outstanding.

Tenor Arnold Rutkowski has an attractive lyric voice with an interesting, bittersweet chocolatey timbre. His Pinkerton was young and foolish and completely unaware of the havoc he was wreaking. He was on solid ground as long as he sang mezzo forte or louder. Softer singing resulted in quality loss. Mr Rutkowski is very musical, but more dynamic control would increase his expressive possibilities. He had all the high notes, which he jettisoned with great physical energy, but the dicey trajectory they sometimes took made one wish for more technical grip. Baritone Angelo Veccia was a suave and humane Sharpless. His refined phrasing amply made up for some throatiness, mostly evident in the upper third of the voice. Mr Veccia’s restrained Sharpless found a dramatic foil in Marie-Nicole Lemieux, who brought her potent dramatic presence to Suzuki. The extremes of her acerbic top and plunging contralto made Butterfly’s maid and companion both fierce-tempered and fiercely maternal. The orchestra was often a little too loud—a common issue at the Concertgebouw, where sound carries further than some conductors realise—but Ms Lemieux could easily counter the volume.

So could Lianna Haroutounian, who gave a world-class performance as the abandoned teenage bride. Her Butterfly was trusting but dignified, and devoid of simpering silliness. With its rich, silk-wrapped vibrato, even focus from top to bottom, and that ductile quality Italians call morbidezza (softness), Ms Haroutounian’s voice is ideal for the young heroine. And she is a true spinto soprano, with enough power and stamina to tackle the onerous third act. Her full top notes are confident and lustrous. She did not take the high D flat at the end of the entrance aria, but the composer-sanctioned lower alternative, and quite beautifully too. “Un bel dì vedremo” (One fine day) was vocal perfection. She effectively built up the tension during Butterfly’s imagined reunion with Pinkerton and ended the aria in a stunning high B flat. Visibly emotional in the suicide scene, she veered a little sharp in “Tu, tu, piccolo iddio” (You, you, my little god). Halfway through, she refocused her voice and sailed through to a secure finale. Unsurprisingly, the hall gave her a clamorous ovation. San Francisco Opera has already announced that Ms Haroutounian will be their Butterfly next season. No doubt she will be invited to sing this role at several other houses. As many Puccini fans as possible need to hear her in it. In fact, opera fans of all types need to hear Ms Haroutounian, in any of her roles—hers is one of the major voices of our time.

Jenny Camilleri


Cast and production information:

Cio-Cio-San — Lianna Haroutounian, Suzuki — Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Arnold Rutkowski — Pinkerton, Sharpless — Angelo Veccia, Goro — Ho-yoon Chung, Prince Yamadori— Yujoong Kim, The Bonze— Miklós Sebestyén, Yakusidé — Hee-Saup Yoon, The Imperial Commissioner — Enseok Choi, The Official Registrar — Kyung-Il Ko, Cio-Cio-San’s Mother — Ruth Willemse, Kate Pinkerton/Aunt — Maria Fiselier, Niece — Julia Westendorp, Conductor — Pietro Rizzo, Netherlands Radio Choir, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. Heard at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam on Saturday, 16th January, 2016.

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